Petersburg Pilot -

Cancer survivor Kyle joins the battle of the bald

 

Submitted by Kyle Hagerman

Cancer survivor Kyle Hagerman gets a close-cut to support the St. Baldrick's Foundation's "Battle of the Bald." Hagerman, a student at Montana State University, was one of 49 MSU students that shaved their heads to raise awareness and money to fight cancer.

Kyle Hagerman's father, Karl, likes to refer to him as "well adjusted." Kyle is soft-spoken, humble about his intelligence and a cancer survivor. Although he only has one, maybe two, memories about the battle with cancer he fought and won.

Kyle was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia one week after turning two years old. For Robyn Hagerman, Kyle's mother, the emotion of the day is inescapable.

"Let me tell you this, I am the emotional Hagerman, so don't you feel bad," Robyn says starting to choke up. "I am easily transported back to that initial day."

It was a Friday, and she took Kyle in for scheduled vaccinations. Later that night, Kyle was running a fever, something common with children getting vaccinations, then on Saturday he started to show signs of a limp. The next morning, Kyle could not bear weight on one leg, in addition to still having a high fever and little red dots on his skin caused by blood clots. Robyn and Karl decided to take him to the emergency room, and they saw Dr. John Bergren, who at the time was new to town.

Robyn says she was fearful Bergren would think it was a case of child abuse because of Kyle's hurt leg, but Bergren made no mention of the sort. Bergren had a strong suspicion of what ailed Kyle and got in contact with the Children's Hospital in Seattle immediately, but he did not tell the concerned parents to avoid furthering their worry. Kyle was admitted over night, and Karl stayed with him in the hospital. Robyn went home to be with the newest addition to the Hagerman family, six-month-old Tucker, who she was still nursing at the time. The next day Kyle was medevaced to Seattle. There was only one seat open alongside Kyle, so Karl went and Robyn stayed home to pack and arranged for Tucker to stay with family. She flew to Seattle the next morning.

Kyle received intense treatment for the next year. He took pills every day, spent two months in Seattle and two months at home, before returning to Seattle for two more months. What Kyle and his family went through is actually quite common and his form of cancer is far from rare, and that's something the Hagerman family is thankful for.

"Initially when he was diagnosed, they told us that kids over the age of one and under the age of nine had an 80 percent chance of full recovery," Robyn says. "And by full recovery they meant cured."

Karl says he tried not to think about losing his first born son, and the fact that he responded to treatment almost immediately helped Karl keep things positive. The staff at the Children's Hospital also helped immensely. Nurses and doctors were always up beat and positive, creating a welcoming environment and making Karl feel secure and more accepting of the gravity of Kyle's situation.

"They deal with this all the time, and if you sit down and think about it it's a very depressing existence because just about every kid that comes in there is so sick, and it's so sad to see," Karl says. "They know why you're there, but they have a job to do, and they do it well. They do an excellent job."

After word of Kyle's diagnosis spread locally the outpouring of support came like a bore tide, with toys and gifts flooding in left and right. Karl also received the priceless gift of time with his family from his co-workers. He was working for the city at the time, and his peers were generous enough to donate their paid sick leave so he could be with Robyn and Kyle in Seattle during the first year of treatment. That kindness is something both parents are extremely thankful for and something Robyn believes solidified Karl's devotion to being a civil servant of Petersburg.

"Karl and I will be eternally grateful to this community and to the employees at the city," she says. "It's really helped shape who we are and how we approach things in life."

Many of the traits Karl and Robyn possess show in the young man Kyle, now 19, has become. He is currently a freshman at Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont., where he studies computer science. And right now he is walking around campus with a shaved head.

Two weeks ago, Kyle and 48 other MSU students shaved their heads to help increase awareness and raise money to fight childhood cancer. The idea, called the Battle of the Bald, is organized by the St. Baldrick's Foundation, and their goal is to conquer childhood cancer.

"This is my first time remembering having a shaved head," Kyle says with a scant laugh. "It got a little pink yesterday, so I'm putting my hat on today."

Kyle's awareness of being a cancer survivor is limited because he went through it at such a young age, and he says his understanding of the battle is less than a teenage or adult survivor's. He thinks about being a survivor every once and awhile, but not daily or even weekly.

"Even if I don't remember, I have the feeling that I'm still here and I'm alive for some reason," he says.

The experience of shaving his head has brought him closer to strangers by allowing him to hear their stories. He has made connections with people that he might not have met otherwise. Some of them are also survivors, though you wouldn't know based on their exterior, he says.

"It's just been one of those perspective changing experiences, and I am really glad that I did it," Kyle says. "I met a girl who has beat brain cancer three times. She's cured, but just to have it three times is crazy, and I never would have thought about it."

The young lady was signed up to shave her head, something a couple of girls on campus did, but her brother's wedding is coming up so she decided against chopping all her hair off prior to the celebration.

Kyle has raised $2,100 for the St. Baldrick's Foundation, and much of the support came from Petersburg. After sharing a post about shaving his head on Facebook, others started sharing it. Robyn laughs saying the post went "Petersburg's version of viral." Anyone wanting to donate to the St. Baldrick's Foundation can go to http://www.stbaldricks.org and search "Kyle Hagerman," to find his page. Donations will be accepted for up to a year.

Karl says it's great to know local folks who supported Kyle as a child stepped up again to help him as a young man, looking to support others in the fight against cancer. Multiple people have stopped both him and Robyn to mention how genuinely happy they are and how highly they think of Kyle's gesture and effort to help raise money, he says.

"I'm glad that we've raised a young man that is empathetic, passionate and sensitive to other people and willing to pay it forward," Robyn says. "That's an important quality that we've tried to instill in all of our children."

The Hagerman family does not look for the opportunity to talk about the fight they took on, together, and won. However, the mention of their battle and the support of the local community quickly stirs strong emotion and resilience feelings.

"It's been a positive experience for all of us in the family, mostly centered around the fact that he did recover," Karl says. "It has been fantastic for us to see him grow up, and in our opinion, he is a very kind young man and very appreciative for what comes his way in life."

 

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